By Donu Kogbara
So much has been said and written about Mallam Abba Kyari, the most high-profile Nigerian COVID-19 casualty so far.
He was controversial, to put it mildly.
When he died last month, some folks celebrated privately or publicly, while others shed genuine tears or crocodile tears.
Obviously, some of those who were glad to see the back of Kyari were opposition politicians who hated the Chief of Staff to Mr President – and Mr President himself – for partisan reasons.
But it has to be said that several anti-Kyari elements were fellow members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, who felt that he had been nasty to them and a lousy advisor to Buhari.
But it’s pretty poor form, in terms of etiquette and cultural norms, to attack a man when he is so down that he is six-feet under.
It is also very risky to diss someone who was dearly loved by the powerful Oga At The Top…and still has supporters in high places.
And I think it is fair to say that Kyari’s in-house detractors only quietly voiced their dislike of the man to trusted confidants.
Anyway, bitter condemnations of Kyari’s conduct and character have been published in both mainstream and social media platforms, alongside gushing songs of praise.
Some critics have examined his career history and accused him of failing in every job he ever did. Others have described him as a visionary, the smartest tool in this administration’s toolbox and a great success who did the best anyone could have done in that role.
Interestingly, many of the people who have expressed strong opinions for and against Abba Kyari have never met him.
Meanwhile, his daughter and friends – Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, for example – have penned poignant tributes that highlight his human side – the part of him that was a delightful dad and loyal chum.
I actually met Kyari many moons ago, when he was a banker in Lagos. The setting was warm, ebullient and informal; and he stood out like a sore thumb because he was so gloomy and withdrawn.
He never cracked a smile. He didn’t laugh at any of the numerous good jokes that circulated. And he said so little that I cannot remember a single word he said. I wasn’t impressed.
Later, I was told that he was shy and immensely cerebral rather than arrogant and dull. And I expected him to use his big brain productively when he eventually became Chief of Staff.
But I’ve not seen any evidence that he was a cut above, in real terms, predecessors who weren’t as well-read as he was.
I encountered foreigners – ambassadors, for example – who were struck by his cosmopolitan erudition…and spoke admiringly of his intellectual sophistication.
But NOT ONE of them described him as a public servant whose heart was in the right place or whose performance was satisfactory.
One of Onyeama’s fond recollections of the mentor who made him Foreign Minister revolved around the fact that Kyari, a Muslim, had been the best man at his Christian wedding.
And it’s nice to know that Kyari was capable of being detribalised and sometimes cared more about relationships than religion.
But my overall conclusions about Kyari are not flattering. We were told that he was the de facto head of state because his boss was either unwilling or unable to take full responsibility for his presidential portfolio; so the buck has to stop on Kyari’s desk to a large extent.
Bluntly put, a huge chunk of this administration’s multiple failures are as much his as they are Mr President’s. And I’d like to quote a couple of unknown scribes who said:
NONE OF US NEEDED TO BE PERSONAL FRIENDS OF SHEIK MAKTOUM OR LEE KWAN YEW, OR HAVE THEM AS OUR BEST MEN DURING OUR WEDDINGS, FOR US TO KNOW THAT THEY WERE GREAT MEN.
ALL WE NEED TO DO IS VISIT DUBAI AND SINGAPORE. SO PLEASE, LET’S NOT MAKE SIMPLE THINGS COMPLEX.
Another sage urged individuals to BEHAVE WELL WHILE YOU ARE ALIVE SO WE DON’T HAVE TO LIE AT YOUR FUNERAL!
Buhari, Kyari and healthcare
One of the things that made me view Kyari as grossly inadequate was the fact that billions of naira had been allocated to ensuring that the clinic in the presidential Villa was world-class; and yet, when Kyari fell ill, he had to be airlifted out of Abuja because the clinic was simply not good enough.
Where did the Villa clinic money go under Kyari’s watch?
Why do so many Naija VIPs admire and pay vast sums for the facilities and infrastructure they encounter abroad, but flatly refuse to provide themselves with similar benefits at home?
What use was Kyari’s famed exposure and fancy foreign education if he could not insist on high standards on his home turf?
Having said this, all Nigerian leaders to date have messed up on this front, the most striking and exasperating example being the late Umaru Yar’Adua.
Yar’Adua had a serious kidney problem for most of his adult life but could not be bothered to build a quality renal unit in his home state, Katsina, while he was governor. Or in Abuja while he was President.
Whenever he needed medical intervention, he would be flown to Germany, Saudi Arabia or wherever.
Meanwhile, the very same Buhari who said he would ban medical tourism has been a frequent visitor to overseas hospitals.